From: Peter Singer <peter.singer_at_UTORONTO.CA>
Date: Sun, 9 Jul 2000 10:27:23 -0400

Thank you Barry for raising the issue of incentives for authors. Let's
take a closer look.

In theory, authors' ultimate goal in research in the health sciences is
presumably (something like) to generate new knowledge that will benefit
patients or improve public health.

There is an existing incentive system in science and medicine that tries to
promote this goal. The system is a complicated cluster of financial and
non-financial rewards but three clear instantiations of the incentive
system are university promotion committees, granting agency review
committees, and award committees.

I do not mention publication of papers (ie traditionally the decisions of
editors) which itself is another related part of the reward system because
that is where we want to intervene. Also, let's put aside the question of
whether the current incentive system is optimally aligned with the ultimate

These groups -- university promotion committees, granting agency review
committees, and award committees -- are supposed to judge "quality" which
itself is a complicated construct with several different and overlapping
meanings. Let's put this problem aside too.

Now the question becomes how does the decision of an author to submit her
work to traditional jounrals versus new forms of e-"publishing" such as
self-archiving or Biomedcentral relate to these incentives?

I mocked the relationship in my earlier article, "Medical journals are
dead. Long live medical journals" (
4/0517.htm) as follows:

"University promotion and tenure committees were less enthusiastic about
these changes. In the good old days they could rely on the "brand" of the
journal in which an article was published to establish its merit. But some
of the best "brand name" journals were running aground, and journal impact
factors had converged. Therefore, tenure committees had to actually read
articles and reflect on their worth. Of course, they were greatly aided in
this task by the journals' detailed commentaries."

For authors to be incentivized to change their behaviour and submit their
articles to the new forms of e-"publishing", the incentive system needs to
be modified to reward this behaviour. This is the equivalent of placing
the food and water outside the cage or getting the horse to drink for those
who followed the earlier metaphors on this list.

Now the question becomes how to change the incentive system so authors can
be rewarded for "publishing" in the new ways? I suggest there needs to be
a change in policy, culture, and technical tools.

Th change is policy is perhaps the easiest to accomplish. The policy of
the univerity, granting agency, or award-giving body simply needs to state
that the work itself, and not where it was published, should be the focus
of attention of review committees in universities, granting councils, and
award-giving bodies. Some already have such policies.

The cultural change is much more difficult. Even if the policy says "judge
the work", the people around the table still spend alot of time counting
articles and looking up impact factors of the journals in which they are
published. One way to change the culture is for the leader ofthe group to
exmplify a different set of values. I wont elaborate on this now other
than to acknowledge the challenge.

Another way to change the culture is to make it easier for the committee
members to do it better another way. This is where the need for technical
tools comes in. The current tools of number of articles, journal brand,
journal impact factor, peer reviews can be improved. If we produce better
tools, we will decrease reliance on the ones we have now -- especially
journal brand -- and authors can be recognized appropriately for their work
submitted to the new venues for e-"publishing".

In summary, i contend that a deep understanding of the incentives on
authors affecting the decision of where they publish -- and some attempt to
perturb the current incentive system to better align it with the ultimate
goals of research in the health sciences -- is a critical challenge to
those interested in the new forms of e-"publishing".

I welcome critical comments on this line of argument. Thanks.

Peter Singer


Peter A. Singer, MD, MPH, FRCPC
Sun Life Chair in Bioethics and Director,
University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics
Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto
Medical Research Council of Canada Scientist
Associate Editor, Canadian Medical Association Journal

fax: 416-978-1911
phone: 416-978-4756
mail: 88 College St., Toronto ON Canada M5G-1L4
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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